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Brothers: A Tale of Two Mediums

By Samuel Woodruff in Original Pieces

Starbreeze Studios, makers of the exceptionally excellent, and criminally underappreciated “Chronicles of Riddick” games, released a developer’s diary this week for their upcoming download title, “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.”  The video goes into detail about the tone of the game, the unique control scheme, and about the emotional journey on which the developers hope to take the players.

The thing that stands out most to me is the cinematic quality that the game’s creative director, Josef Fares, instills in the game. It’s no wonder, since, as he states in the video, Fares started out in film. However, the “cinematic” quality of a game, that is to say, the aesthetic quality of Cinema, can be found in nearly every big title released over the past two generations of consoles. Game-makers have long striven to create “cinematic” games, more and more by increasing the graphical detail and by shifting the plotting to hit particular beats standardized by films. The apex of the modern game seems to be the “playable movie.” There’s nothing wrong with that, after all, Cinema started very much the same way, and eventually, (especially with the introduction of sound) began to emulate the beats of the Theatre, right down to the three-act structure which is still touted in screenwriting books and seminars every day. Whoever said that “everything is a remix” was right. However, having said all that, if what Fares claims is true, “Brothers” possesses a quality of the Cinema that is rare in games: round characters.

It’s a necessity of the medium that most characters in games remain flat, that is, as defined by E.M. Forster, that they do not undergo a change or transformation during the course of the story (just to be clear, it’s no insult to classify a character as flat, after all, Sherlock Holmes, one the of the greatest characters in English Literature is a flat character). It’s hard to set things up for a sequel if the characters all change.

That’s why you have, in something like “Assassin’s Creed,” a flat character in Desmond (the one constant throughout the entire series), who proceeds fairly unchanged throughout the five games in which he is featured, while the Assassins he inhabits all undergo some kind of transformation within their narratives. It’s only when Desmond’s own narrative is hurtling toward a close that he is allowed to become a round character.

If Fares and Starbreeze truly do create a game in which round characters traverse a narrative and come out changed on the other side, then they might come closer than anyone has before to marrying the two mediums of games and Cinema. And I am very excited to see how it unfolds. “Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons” will be released by 505 Games on PC, PSN, and XBLA Spring 2013.

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